Women of the West

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(Note: This is for a gentleman who loves Louis L’Amour books.  This is as far outside of my normal genre as it can get. To Donnie, Hope you enjoy this, I see it as four “Brands”  {Chapters}, I have no idea where it’s going.)

Women of the West.

 

First Brand: Texas Tracking

The sky was cloudless while Texas Ranger James Austin, whose great-uncle was Stephen Austin, the Father of Texas, looked out over the skyline, hunting a man accused of murder.

His wanted poster rode in his saddlebag, he had studied it until he knew every descriptive detail.

Jorge de Lobo de la Montana was playing poker with several gents in Rusty’s Saloon in Galveston. With Moody Sweetwater, his half-Comanche tracker, they rode swiftly through the hot Texas sunlight, following where his partner of so many battles said that de la Montana’s horse went.

“Jim.” Moody pointed to drifting black smoke. “Trouble.”

The appearance was not like a wildfire, this was a column with a mushroom-shaped head on it, a cloud of dust rose just above the crest of the next hill.

“Reconnoiter the left, I’ll go to the right.” Jim ordered.

Moody nodded and rode off, pulling his rifle from the scabbard on the side of his mount.

Jim rode to the right, a east-northeast direction that allowed him a view from an ancient rockfall.

Moody tied his horse a hundred-paces from the top of the hill and walked, carefully with his Henry rifle, always worried about the rifle firing a round by accident, he kept the chamber empty until he needed it.

This was no exception, although he knew in his heart, after long years of tracking, this was an ongoing fight.

His wisdom, once again proven when he got closer and could hear screams and sounds of battle going on below. Crawling on his knees, he plucked an old branch up and held it in front of him and looked down at the base of the smoke.

What he saw made his eyes go wide.

Moody looked at Jim, a quarter-mile off, the Ranger had his Spencer out and was picking his way near the crest.

Jim, now on a rock, crawled forward and saw what made Moody’s jaw drop.

A stagecoach, and it looked like the Shotgun fighting with, what Jim assumed was empty, his scattergun, using it as a club against another man wearing rawhide pants and a linen shirt. With a headband, it looked like an Indian raiding party had found easy prey.

The reinsman hung upside-down from the front of the stage, tangled in the lines attached to one dead horse, the other three animals, missing and he presumed, bolted from the mêlée.

And two women, one taller with raven-colored hair, the other, smaller with blood-red.

Around them, four bodies lay, two burning like candles, putting up the black smoke, the other two unmoving in the dust. They were in pitched battle with four men with clubs and, it appeared, sabers.

And doing rather well, too.

Two women, one man who was badly hurt, were gaining the upper hand against five road-agents.

Signaling Moody, the two lawmen made their way down, carefully to the tableau on the meadow.

Moody and Jim entered the clearing in different directions, each with a line of sight to cover the other.

“Stop right there.” Jim said. Stretching up to his full five-foot four-inch height. Despite his diminutive height, his voice was more akin to a giant.

The sight of the two Ranger’s standing with their rifles pointed in the general direction, the men put their hands up.

“Thank god you’re here!” One of the men, bloodied from a dozen cuts.

“You will see god before we are through!” The taller woman said.

Jim could see that she was quite young, no more than nineteen or twenty.

The other was little more than a girl, perhaps three years younger, but a definite resemblance, the two were closely related.

As if they came from the same stock, sisters or a mother and daughter.

The younger girl had what looked like a Bowie knife, but greatly ground down, thinning the blade from back to cutting-edge, but still slightly longer than her forearm.

Even if she was a tiny slip of a girl, the weapon was effective if the chunks of flesh that lay in the dirt were witness to.

The other girl, Jim recognized the edged weapons she carried, an ax in her left hand, looking like a slightly oversized tomahawk and, he had spent time down on the waterfronts in Galveston and seen such edged weapons before, a falchion.

A seafarers weapon. Shorter than a cutlass, but just as effective. A glorified meat cleaver.

Face down in the bloody mud, long black hair with a headband, the body of one of the raiders did not move.

Rolling him over, the handle of a knife jutted out of his throat.

An old scar along his face identified him.

Jim pulled out a poster and read off the description.

“Who stuck the knife in this man?” Jim looked at the Coach Guard as he reloaded his shotgun who pointed at the older girl.

“That bastaird cac sicín tried to kiss my girl.” She spoke as if discussing what she was cooking for dinner. “We rode with another wagon coming from .”

“Well, I’m Jim Austin, that there is my deputy, Moody. And you are? Miss…” Jim paused.

“I am Mel O’Danu Smite, this is my daughter Enya.”

“Well, this body here, he was a killer and there were  witnesses that saw him throw the daughter of the President of Mexico off a bridge while getting away. She used his own saber against him and cut his face. I have not seen the scar before, but it looks like she cut it down to the bone before it healed. That is hideous.” Jim looked the body over. “A scar on his chest the shape of a wolf. There! Look, it’s been branded in. This is him. The President of Mexico put a bounty on his head, dead or alive, you get ten-thousand Peso’s.”

“Is that a lot? For killing him?”

“Yes, a lot. A Peso is about eight-reales.”

“How much is a Reale?” Mel’s intense dark eyes made Jim back up a step.

“Uh.” He stammered, she did not threaten him, but her sideways turn of her head and smoldering eyes made him dream. “About ten-dollars.”

“She speaks the truth, there are two sets of wagon-tracks. The Concord Coach is much lighter than the other. Eight horses, long wheelbase. Strange wagon, heavy.” Moody stood up. “Extra-wide wheel. Like a pay wagon.”

“That explains why they didn’t stop.” Jim nodded to Moody, then turned back to the girls. “What are you two doing on a stagecoach alone?”

“We are going to my husband’s house outside of Galveston.” The dark-haired one said. “He is a retired Texas Ranger.”

“Retired?” Moody looked up. “A Ranger?”

“What is his name?” Jim asked carefully.

She sized him up for a minute. Close enough that made him uncomfortable while they tied the men up and put them on the coach.

“Donal Smite, he and I married in the old country and had to leave or starve about ten seasons ago. We bought a boat and took our chances with merchant business.”

With the reinsman dead, Moody would drive while the surviving coachline employee rode shotgun. The men would walk behind the stagecoach for the three-hour trip back to where they started.

“I don’t know a Donal Smite.” Moody tightend up the straps on the hands of the dead he slung over a horse to keep them from falling off. “Jim, there is Donnie Smith, he is just outside of Galveston. Has a good spread, even a river that flows to the sea.”

“Ayuh, he keeps talking about sailing to Darien in the east. That may be who you are talking about ma’am. A redheaded Scotsman, a little darker than yours.” Jim nodded to Enya. “Big fisted, I saw him punch a horse so hard, he unseated the rider.”

“Aye, he learnt that on board of our ship.”

“Well, you have a surprise for your man, if it’s indeed him” Jim nodded. “You have a ship?”

“We had three. But there was a storm, nigh on two-months ago. Wiped out the fleet and the house is unfit to live in.” Enya said.

Mel nodded.

“Donal sent a letter, saying he had a place to start again. I told him he would put back to sea, he retired of you Rangers as the moment I arrive.” Mel said matter of factly. “I will not have my mo chéile being shot at. He knows Samuel Colt and will work there if I say anything about it.”

“Well, ma’am. You might want to know, Donnie is something special with us.” Moody said. “In the tribes around, he tells them to not trust any agents. He works hard to get them more of anything they ask.”

Enya nodded at the news of her father, clearly proud of the work he did here.

“As captain of ships, he did the same thing to get the crew well paid for the cargo they would transport. Sometimes they brought back treasures.”

“Enya, enough.” The Irish accent thickening, but the fire in her eyes even made Jim and Moody back their horses away a bit.

“We, ah, we can go now.” The shotgun said. “I can drive, but you gents can keep an eye out for road agents?”

“Make it so.” Jim ordered. “Ladies, you can ride in the coach.”

“Nae. No.” Mel said. “There is blood inside. We will ride on teh empty horses you have there and there.”

“We can’t wait for you to figure out how to ride…” Jim trailed off as Mel and Enya both climbed into saddles and rode up to them.

“Say your words.” Enya said, her eyes flashing like her mom’s.

“That would be a dare, Mister Jim.” Mel laughed, her raven hair blowing in the breeze. “Now we go see if your Donnie Smith is my spouse.”

Looking over at Moody, the two Rangers shrugged. Both of them wanting to see the look on the face of the big Scotsman when these two firebrands walked up to him.

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The Pirate Kingdom: Facet 2. Incursion

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Facet 2. Incursion Investigated

Thunderbolt, Thunder Child and the Lightning made up the three ship strike-team. To call the lightning a ship was almost an error. it was a flying weapon. More akin to a giant gun with engines.

Thunderbolt was a broad, fast, ship with twin engines, rotary cannons fore and aft. She had bays along the underside and top of the ship to launch light fighters and interceptors. In effect, a small battle-base, but still an effective warship in its own right.

Thunder Child, the third, middle-sized ship. Carrying the latest in weapons systems. It was capable of producing a huge amount of energy and the phased array energy weapons were terrifying. Swift and sly, the ship could cloak like the other three, but with more power to conceal itself, it could get much closer before opening fire in such a way that few ships could mount any resistance. It was the way of the pirate, get a drop on someone and take a ship without a shot.

And these ships were capable of many, many shots.

This was the pirate fleet and the Pirate Kingdoms were the undisputed power in this area.

Several small shuttle pods detached from the ships and made their way to the wreck, docking to the airlocks that had not been damaged, doors opened with grating sounds from damaged hardware revealing the dark clad teams who stood at the threshold.

“I am Commander Che of the Thunderbolt. My associates, Commanders Centari and Jacking. Their teams and mine are here to assist you. And you are Captain…..?”

“Captain Phoenix Alexandra of the ship Alexandra the Great.” she held out her hand.

The pirate took the hand. “Permission to come aboard, Captain?”

“Granted, but it is not my ship. The ship belongs to Captain Metrano.”

“Iridium Metrano?”

“The same.” She looked at the Commander. “You know him?”

“Aye, he has recently traded medical supplies to our ship some time ago. Our business with him was very agreeable. We enjoy trade with him often.” Che looked around the entry. Pits of projectiles and burns from directed energy discharges overlapped on the walls and bulkheads. There had been a desperate, pitched battle inside the merchantman.

The crews returned to the Alexandra and met in the briefing room. The pirates walked in and sat down together with one of them looking around from the Lightning.

“This is one big damned ship. This room is bigger than all our crews quarters, combined!” Commander Centari whispered to Jacking who nodded, when the Pirate Captains walked in.

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 19. A Nightmare Of A Possibility

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19. A Nightmare Of A Possibility

Twitching, the world took on a surreal color pallet.

She slept with her arm over his shoulders, cuddled up to his back like two spoons in the flatware box. This world faded away and another one slid forward on soft cat-paws in his mind.

A nightmare invaded Kane’s slumber. A violent dream.

He was angry. He was fighting and he was fury incarnate, down to his core, he was… He was…

He was Orcus the avenging demon of wrongs. The angry imp that struck in an instant.

The black-soul that would invade a lover’s heart and turn the loving soul into a murderer in a moment for minor wrongs, bringing new slaves to the Dark Lord for his bidding.

And found – Not an angelic minion, a nameless adversary. It was… It… was… even in his dream, he stammered.

It was HER!

He defended his Angel.  It played vividly in his mind, he was again there when the Hoard attacked. For his heart focused only on one soul ever. A heart properly motivated would do anything. In defense of his deepest mote of love, that one spark never lost, did he do the unthinkable.

But the hesitation brought the unwanted attention of the Dark One who did not believe in such deep thoughts – Backing up his best, his most infernal, the one who brings the most of the new souls in for the Satan, Emperor of Hell to torment for his pleasure.

The Great Angel of the Pit arrived and struck her a crushing blow, pushing the smaller imp out of harms way, attacking the crimson haired angel delivering a huge slash across her arms and with that single blow of his clawed hand, he knew her name.

Bronwyn they called her. In that instant he knew it was her human name. Somewhere in time there was a candle lit for her. But that mattered not, this soul, that forestalled the killing stroke of the best of his warriors, one who commanded a legion. The Emperor’s best and brightest, the most savage, one of the most feared of all.

A blow stung him to the core as she struck back, a blessed sword of holy crystal! With a mighty roar of a thousand damned hearts, and struck at her with claw and fang, to tear out a new soul. Not one that would be returned to this little Angel’s lord. Her flesh would be ravaged, spirit would be torn and body broken as he pounced on her like a savage raptor of hate, of the dark side and he struck with a blow to shatter souls; it was the law of things in battle. The mighty overwhelm the weak.

But this angel did not read the rule book.

The bright, pure soul of the host, drove Hell’s Master backwards the flash of a moment as she struck him with the might of the host. Michael would not have struck as hard. Silver chain mail over her torso resisted the power of darkness, for this was for this was one of the great warrior archangels. Fitting her like a wet shirt, it guarded against  the savage horde. However, it was not on par with the supreme demon of the darkness.

The battle ensued, he was savage and she as a blinding light against his dark, claw to armor, fist to fang. The whole of the lands shook with the fury of battle. Master against Angel, there was no turning back, Bronwyn was fighting for her immortal soul and there was no mercy, no plea that would be heard. This was a battle to the end of it all, to the death of two immortal beings.

She struck with enough power and heart to knock him to his knees, enough power to break a demon. But not this Dark Lord, almighty in his satanic powers, he was beyond her dreams of power. He took his measure of her strength, weighed her power and compared it to his own. She who had gotten a few hits in, her light was as a small lamp in the pitch darkness of night. Bright as she was, she was found wanting, and he retaliated.

That little blessed knife of hers,  broken and thrown away, hummed feebly in the dirt.

And the Devil struck with the might of Hell – again and again the great dark fist of the Emperor shattered her body, her shield of faith. Her soul would taste like a sweet grape on his tongue after he tore it out of her and consumed it, never to return to the adversary of her Lord of Light. To hell with an angel.

Beaten, weaponless, on her knees, held by one wing he beat her again and again. She screamed one name.

“Orcus! HELP!”

Her screams echoed in the cold, dead heart. Somewhere in the dust of ages, among the dead and heavily scarred flesh that wound around the blackened and charred whole of his soul, a spark that was hidden was found and it heard – the spark flared, burned and ignited something within the emptiness that was the heart of a demon.

A rage that grew, fanned to flames by the winds of memory that rushed back, an awakening of a promise once made to a pure soul. The spark that remembered once promised to protect.

And failed.

But not this time.

Not again.

Never again.

Shall not. Ever again. Fail.

And a single word, born from the very core of fury.

“STOP!”

Corruption was who he was, a body covered in hideous scars of ages of combat, unholy visage of a beak-like face, horns for hair and red-rage that glowed in his eyes. Orcus, a name known only to Bronwynn, had in that one moment, that blistering rage that erupted and attempted control of in a futile effort, the Emperor of Hell saw and knew.

One brief shining moment of longing crossed the angry face of the warrior-demon. Of passion’s fire kindled in a heart that had long gone to cold ash. A history that was once forgotten, rose again in the demon once thought soulless, an ember of passion rose and the testimony of that one quiet hot mote arose to live again in the being that was Orcus. A soul, blasted and scarred with self-hatred and anger.

“You wish this female? Take her soul then. Use the battle-ax, the Claw of Hades and cut it from her.” The terrible eyes of the Emperor turned on the General of his legions. “Strike her sacred body, cut off her wings, cut out her soul and you will stay together for an eternity! You will command together. Whole legions of demons that would respect you both, you will the power second only to mine, you both will be in Hell forever.”

The dark countenance of the Dark Lord was that of savage pleasure, to have her struck down without her fighting back. A total defeat of an angel and the stealing of a soul as pure as this.

“Power and love of your mate for all time. Fear and respect from others, none shall dare not stand up to you.” The Dark Master spoke to the smaller demon.

On the battlefield the three stood, all demons had stopped their corrupt actions and watched the drama, would an angel switch sides for love? Would the great Gardener stand up and save one of his own. A warrior angel, the best and brightest, one that had once turned her back on heaven to live a life with a love. One where her heart once rejoiced so much that it echoed in heaven.

The Dark Lord held her by a copper-colored wing, this angel, one who had given her heart to Orcus so long ago with the blessing of her Enlightened One. The long scarred and hideous arm held her out as if to offer a meal to the demon for his abuse, for the cut to come. To take her into the darkness and drive out doubt in the host.

Once an old affable gardener with wisdom unmatched and told her to go to the Imp and love him good and well.

“Raise him up, love him all the days on that little spot that you claim your own.”

This moment she hung helpless in a giant’s clawed hand. On a finger an ebony ring of an apple surrounded by a snake on the hand, he squeezed and smoke billowed from her wing and Bronwynn screamed in pain. The battle between the light and dark over for the moment.

But there was no fight left in this angel. Her crystal sword broken and the angel’s battered and bruised body hung limply from combat against the one called Satan. She was out of energy. With not enough strength to fight, she hung in his mighty grip and cried. Holy chain-mail hung off her in tatters and shreds. Plates of armor, harder than diamonds, tougher than a heart of a warrior crushed like foil lay on the ground.

Defeated, no weapons left, too weary to lift her arms.  Bronwyn hung there, broken and beaten.

A flick of the wrist and she was flung across the battlefield at the feet of the demon of retribution, vengeance and pain.

“Cut her soul from the angels body and you will have her forever.” The Dark One spoke. “How deep is the love you have? What would you do for that passion that burns in your chest? Do you believe you have a love for this small one?”

“She pleases me.” Orcus looked at her.

The old rage was there, ruby-red eyes of a savage demon. But… something else and it did not go unnoticed.

“DO you love her?” The question was more of a statement by Hell’s Master.

“I…” A hesitation. How does one give up a weakness? Never a good idea to do so to anyone that has power over you… but… “Love her.”

“What sweetness.” Satan laughed. “Would you do anything for her love?”

“Yes.” Orcus was watching her, greed in his wholeness. Cultivated consciously, lust for power. Turning away from love. Lust for a mate. Not love. To use her for pleasure. NOT love.

“I love her.” Damn it all! Orcus thought. Not what he wanted to say.

“Sweet indeed. Love for an angel. Does the small demon wish her with him forever and ever?” The Emperor said softly. “I can give her to you.Just give her the stroke, take her soul and bring her to you. Live forever in each others company in the beauty of your world. Can you do that? Can you love her enough to bring her to you?”

Orcus nodded.

“I can do that. The soul of an angel, power untold. I can do that.” A grin from the lips that split with the evil of his own words.

Savage anger glowed from his eyes, the Claw of Hades, an old friend, a battle-ax whose blade had ten points for piercing of armor in his hands that caressed its polished surface as if it were a sexual device. The tip of the main blade pressed against the bare flesh of her chest, an unprotected gap of her rent and destroyed armor.

Bronwyn looked up into the eyes of the one she loved most in all the worlds, all the universes that existed, anywhere she ever lived, anyplace she had gazed upon — she had given him her heart.

The tip of the ax rested against the curve of her throat, where it joined her torso, she had nothing more to give this demon, the imp that held her heart. Trying to tell him, never did he fail her. For she loved him greater than all the souls that were in heaven.

An evil laugh as the Master knew what would come. “Would you do anything for love?”

“I would do anything for power! I would do anything for love.” Orcus cackled now.

Bronwyn gave him her best, most vulnerable spot, knowing the pain of the cut coming. Not fighting any longer, she arched her neck back, offering her soul, she gave up all that would be her history, her love, her passion.

She would give up her heaven.

Her lord and her soul.

For him.

And waited for the cut that would take her from the light and plunge her forever into the darkness of the pit of the abyss.

She then heard the last time he would speak to her in this world.

“I’ll do anything for love.” His breath was hot on her cheek.

His breath coming in deep ragged gasps of blood lust, she knew. The tip of the cursed battle-ax, a gift from Hades to Orcus in another long ago age, pressed against her throat dimpling the flesh.

“I would do anything for your love. ” He said again, softer. “I will have you as mine forever.”

She could feel the muscles of the battle-scarred body tense, the winding up of the moment, he was ready and the blow was moments away.

“I”ll do anything for love!”

A pause…

Bronwyn closed her eyes, waiting for the first sensation of pain that marked the end of her heavenly life as she gave herself to her love, her heart, and the one that brightened her soul even from the darkest of realms.

She closed herself off to the view of the one with the weapon that had her at his mercy. The him through time and realms that they had traveled. Through dimensions, ages, together they had once loved laughed and had light of the universe in their hearts.

“I’ll do anything for love…” He drew a deep breath through sharpened and savage teeth…

*I love you.* It was her last thought.

“… NO! I WON’T DO THAT!”

Turning in an instant, Orcus hurled the cursed ax, the Claw of Hades at Satan himself, launching into an attack against the Emperor of Hell, this demon of legend, the First Emperor of all things of evil intent, action and temptation.

A simple flick of the Lord of the Demon’s hand and the ax flew away over his shoulder, landing uselessly in the battlefield beyond the reach of the smaller demon.

“TRAITOR!”

“I knew you! Traitor! You shall live forever as a slave to serve us all! Torment by those being tormented, undying life of slime, never-ending pain is all yours forever. I shall enjoy consuming your angel, she is MINE.”

“NEVER! You will starve!” The Demon screamed.

Savage was Orcus’ attack, the crushing blows he delivered was with every mote of his being, all sound, all battles, all conflict stopped as the host of heaven and the hoards of hell halted their battles and watched this ballet of destruction played out.

Watching the fight that suddenly became center stage of a battlefield, Asmodeus turned to Lucifer. “One-hundred on Orcus.”

“You’re on.” Lucifer already had plans to tell the Emperor how the odds were. Who bet on the outcome.

“I’ll take some of that.” The Beelzebub stood near the arch-demons. “I’ll take the Master.”

“Roll your own dice Beeze?” Leviathan laughed, the giant put down his vote for Orcus. Calling him “The once and future Emperor”.

Savage orange fire from the mouth of the Emperor for the chest of Orcus as he folded his wings around for protection and laughed as the flames enveloped his body.

“Time to fall!” A scream from the beak-like face as the demon went claw to talon, fang to fire as Satan did battle with the best and darkest of his demons. Green fire from the clawed hands of the demon that shattered the confidence and wings of the Emperor. The tail of the once-Emperor, whipped through the darkened atmosphere of war, a weapon unto itself, the prehensile appendage wrapped itself around the throat of the Dark One.

“To slime, to torment, to slavery with you! For LOVE I shall strike. For her soul I shall beat you into the ground.” Orcus screamed as his tail tightened against the armor-scale of a neck as he looked into the compound beast-eyes. Sixty-six and six-hundred pupils that he saw his reflection framed by the horned face.

“For my angel’s heart, you will suffer!”

Satan’s quad-lipped mouth opened up and exposed too many teeth as the Emperor of Hell choked on a grip tighter than steel that squeezed ever tighter. The Devil’s mouth tried to bite the scale covered hide of traitorous demon.

Twisting about in the noose of a tail, the Dark Lord landed a blow that registered on earth as an earthquake. Scientists explained that a previously unknown fault shook the humans. The same blow nearly obliterated the demon, but Orcus fought back with the power of love. The demon was unstoppable as Satan was relentless. Again they collided head on, claw to claw, fang to tusk. Each blow measured to inflict the greatest damage, each block meant to waste the energy of the opponent.

Never had there been such a challenge to his power. Victory was not assured, for the fist time in an age – Satan, the Emperor of Hell, felt fear.

Fire and fury, hate versus love. A Dark-Heart against the power of darkness, the energy of both opponents took a toll as they gave their all for victory.

One loved power, the other loved.

Suddenly a misstep, a missed moment in a battle against an implacable enemy and Orcus was flung backwards by a titanic blow, one wing broken, the other wing torn, horns broken, eyes unfocused. The right arm lay useless under his body.

Tired and out of breath, the Emperor of hell moved towards the demon that dared to choose love over immeasurable power, lust and greed. This Satan, wheezing and blinded in half his eyes, all the fingers on the right hand missing and the Emperor of Hell walked on his hands, swinging his leg forward in an ape-like walk, trailing black ichor that served as blood, towards the traitor, a stump where the left leg was missing. He struggled to tear with his remaining hand, to finish the demon, to turn him into the lowest of the slime of hell – Better! To consume the dark soul until it was no more, to digest and spit out that which they called “Love”.

As the Emperor got close to the puny and broken imp, close enough to strike with what was left of his claws and fangs, Orcus held his left hand outstretched towards the Emperor…

Was this beseeching? That thought was entertaining.

A plea for mercy? A laugh at the thought rose in Satan’s mind.

A plea? Hardly.

It was a call, a command to a part of the demon’s own wholeness, a call to an old friend, a gift from the Emperor that followed Orcus to the throne. The call to the Claw of Hades, a call that the ax must answer. Return to its owner no matter the obstacle.

Behind the Dark Lord, the Claw of Hades lay in the filth of the battlefield, forgotten in the rage of battle. Tossed so easily away by the more powerful demon and never given a thought after.

A mistake.

A fatal mistake.

The weapon, as much a part of Orcus as his tail was, answered its call. The ten-pointed ax trembled, slightly at first, then turned blade first and raced through the air to the Master of the Ax in a straight line, regardless of what was in the way.

The Dark Lord became aware of the whistling noise, the disturbance drew the great demon’s attention, but too late.

Too late!

Returning to Master of the Ax, the cursed weapon drove through the through the forehead of the Dark Lord on the way to the hand of Orcus. The look of surprise was entertaining to the old demon as for one brief glorious moment as Orcus nearly laughed, the Great Devil himself, the destroyer, He who defeated Hel who gave her name to the kingdom that He then ruled. He who defeated Hel held his hands up in frozen stark surprise…

And imploded without a sound, like a shadow banished from view when a light shines into the darkness.

The Dark Lord was no more in one last anticlimactic, quiet, mundane moment.

All that was left, an ebony ring of an apple surrounded by a snake that fell to the ground. Frost formed where it bounced until it stopped moving. A  freezing fog formed around the ring, curling over the ground as it rested quietly in the dust.

Panting, barely strong enough to stand, pain was his second world, a second life of passion drove him to stand. Shredded and torn, his right-wing broken, dark blood oozed through dozens of new wounds that covered his body as he knelt next to his angel.

Lifting her up in his arms, she reached up and caressed his face. His broken hand held hers gently. There were too many wounds on his immortal body, he was weak beyond description. The immortal demon was weakening further, the great heart had begun to beat, now faltered. He caressed her face with a blood-stained finger tears leaked from his eyes as dark blood leaked out of him into the dirt.

“I’d do anything for you.” He whispered softly and nodded, “I would do anything for your love, but I would not do that. I could never do that.”

“Come with me.” Bronwyn whispered. “Come back home. You are free.”

A soft cough from a few steps away interrupted.

“Hell needs an Emperor.” The Lucifer said, standing behind Orcus. “It is advancement by assassination in Hell. He must take his place on the throne.”

“NO!” The Angel refused to accept this! Orcus sacrificed it all for her life.

“NO! Stay with me!” Bronwyn argued. pulling on Orcus’ arms, her own hands too weak to grip tightly.”Turn away from all this, come home. I will not have this!”

“He could do anything for love. Fight the old Emperor,” Asmodeus nodded, frowning as he handed the ebony black ring of an apple surrounded by a snake to Orcus. “and win. He has changed the course of a war, changed a thousand hearts. He has altered the universe in uncountable ways. He did that all for love.”

“He did it all.” Lucifer nodded. “He did it all for love. But he cannot go with you.”

“He can’t do that.” Beelzebub whispered as he shook his head and bowed to the new Emperor.

The cool hand of Bronwyn touched him in between the shoulder-blades. “Orcus”, the name echoed in the webs of his dream, his face was wet from tears, Kane had cried out in his sleep.

Kisses on his cheeks as the hands of an angel cupped his face.

“What makes you cry?” She frowned with concern in her eyes.

“I dreamed I had lost you. Our time together was over and I had to use my powers to save you. I also remember my name, from so long ago. Orcus.”

“I remember that name. Punisher of broken promises and oaths. No wonder you do not break promises to children.” She smiled at him. “You are the children’s guardian of promises. You keep the promise of the gift giving when the days grow short and life begins anew. You are the one to shape a child’s view of the world.”

He shook his head, “I still lost you and I will not allow that. Ever.”

She slid her arms around him as she kissed her husbands tears away.

“We can change the future.”

Together they slept the rest of the night, no further dreams intruded.

But Kane had his doubts.